There is no dispute that the major social-economic failure of all of Israel's governments is the fiasco of public transportation in Gush Dan (metropolitan Tel Aviv ). In no Western country - and not even a former communist country - is the level of public transportation as backward and frustrating as it is in Israel.
There is no metropolitan area in the world with a population and volume of activity like that of Gush Dan without a subway or light train system. Nor is there any more uncaring and disdainful service than that which the Dan region monopoly offers the unfortunate citizens who are dependent on it - the elderly, youth, new immigrants - and any other captive citizen who simply cannot afford a car.
Many families who don't earn enough to cover their monthly expenses are forced to buy a car only so they can get to work on time, and the high price of gasoline affects them seriously. It's a failure that costs billions of shekels a year: in endless traffic jams, wasted fuel, accidents, frayed nerves and damage to the environment.
It's only here that you find yourself totally helpless at a bus stop. The buses' arrival is a great unknown. The Dan company commits itself to nothing. It does not publish (at most stops ) any information about the bus routes or schedules. Well, why should it? It's a monopoly that receives huge subsidies from the state, and as far as Dan is concerned, you can walk.
When a bus does finally arrive, it's so crowded that it doesn't stop. And if the driver deigns to stop, the frustrated citizens rush the door to shout, "Do you go to the market? To the Azrieli mall? To the university?" Because there is no information about routes at the bus stop.
These failures should have been resolved long ago by the minister of transportation. True, the Dan and Egged bus cooperatives are not easy clients, but the fact is that the service offered by Dan is becoming worse over the years, while the percentage of people who use public transportation is declining. At present, it stands at only 18 percent of those who use the roads. Only people who have absolutely no other choice use public transportation here.
On July 1, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz plans to launch a reform of the bus routes. Under the new method, the lines will be divided into two types: arterial routes on which buses will travel with high frequency along main streets, and neighborhood lines which will feed the arterial buses. Travelers will purchase a "smart ticket" that will be valid for 90 minutes, and instead of using a long and winding route will use two lines. The number of lanes reserved for public transportation will also be increased, and police enforcement against private vehicles using those lanes will be stepped up.
It sounds good, but the public is skeptical and the bitterness is surging. People are worried about a further decline in the quality of the service (which is already low ), because the number of lines will drop from 82 to 59. For example, the no. 45 line from Tel Hashomer via Givatayim to Tel Aviv University will be canceled - and the students are protesting.
To this Katz replies that the frequency of the buses will rise significantly, so that overall traveling time will be reduced. The fact is that the pubic-transportation subsidy is being upped by NIS 50 million to make this possible.
But the people are right to be apprehensive. First, the cancelation of lines will make it necessary to walk longer distances to the bus stops, and the need to use two buses suggests longer traveling time. Second, as long as the Dan monopoly does not require its drivers to get to stops at designated times, as long as the stops do not have maps showing the exact routes and as long as no electronic screens are installed to show when the next bus is due, the major problems will not be solved: unreliability, uncertainly and bad service.
For the user of public transportation, the most important elements are reliability and punctuality. He wants to know exactly how long he has to wait until the next bus and when it will reach its destination.
Katz's test on July 1 will be simple: Will the buses continue to serve only those who have no choice, or will the reform induce the public at large to start traveling by bus? One way or the other, we have no subway.
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